Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Thoughts on the Obesity Epidemic

We've been hearing about the "obesity epidemic" for some time now. Yet as much as it's in the news, nothing is changing. Why? Because there seems to be a combination of things that need to happen. No one thing will fix America's size or health. Here's what I see as some of the major issues at hand:

The Food Pyramid

We have been told to eat a high-carb, low-fat diet for decades now. But what has it done to us?

The Food Pyramid tells us to eat more grain than any other category. That doesn't sound strange until you stop to think about it: mammals don't require grain.
Grain is designed to pass through our bodies intact so we spread the seeds of the plant. Humans cannot digest grain unless it is ground/cooked.

Think about what you gorge yourself on. Most of us cannot overeat on meat, vegetables, or fruits. We overeat on grain-based carbs. Most people wouldn't eat 2 steaks, but 2-3 big bowls of pasta they polish off without thinking twice.

Grains are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Sounds healthy, right? While Omega-6s are essential, the average American's Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is way out of whack. Ideally, we would want 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. The average American's ratio is between 1:10-1:20. This excess of Omega-6 throws off our body chemistry. It increases risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. It also increased inflammation of arthritis and aggravates skin problems such as psoriasis.

We have also been told fat is bad.

The reality is fat is essential to life, we cannot survive without it. There are bad fats, such as trans fats, which should be avoided; but not all fat is bad. (New studies have even reclassified saturated fat from a "bad fat" to an "essential fat". In fact, there never was a study that proved it to be a "bad fat" to begin with!)

Dietary fat does not equate to body fat. If a person is trying to avoid fat and eating a very low-fat diet, it actually makes it harder to lose weight. If you starve your body of fat, your body holds onto fat that much harder. To lose fat, you have to eat fat.

A high-carb low-fat diet is actually a perfect way to get fat! Especially when coupled with all the processed foods the average American eats.

High Fructose Corn Syrup aka Corn Sugar

In 1970, about 15% of the United States adult population was obese. Today, that number has risen to 33%.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) started being used in our food in the late 1970s as a cheaper substitute for sugar (taxes and tariffs had been increasing the price of sugar). In 1984, Coca-Cola and Pepsi switched from using sugar to HFCS. This lead to a skyrocketing increase in the use of HFCS. The average American eats 60 pounds of HFCS each year.

The corn industry tells us "HFCS is just fine in moderation", yet the "moderation" part is the killer here. HFCS is lurking everywhere. Even if you think to yourself that you don't eat a lot of sweets, you still probably eat far more HFCS than you realize. When you start reading the ingredient labels, you'll quickly realize how hard it is to avoid.

Here are just a few things you can find HFCS in:
  • bread
  • breakfast cereal
  • salad dressing
  • canned soup
  • canned fruit and vegetables
  • flavored yogurt
  • bottled marinades
  • pre-marinated meat & fish
  • ketchup and steak sauce
  • Miracle Whip
  • pancake syrup
  • fruit juice
  • crackers & cookies
  • candy
  • soda pop

The corn syrup industry is trying very hard to get people to continue eating HFCS.  They are even in the process of renaming HFCS "corn sugar". I'm sure you've seen their ads on TV; they keep advertising "your body can't tell the difference between cane sugar and corn sugar (aka: HFCS)".

A study at Princeton University begs to differ. In 2010, they studied how rats were affected by eating cane sugar versus HFCS. The rats were all eating the same amount of calories. The rats given cane sugar did not experience weight gain. 100% of the rats given HFCS became obese.

Not Just About the Food...

Once we make these lifestyle changes, it still may take a couple generations for our waistlines to shrink. Why? Because weight in adulthood isn't only based on the person's current actions.

Weight and Puberty Relationship

Currently, 1 in 3 children in the United States is overweight or obese.

A person who is overweight or obese when they are going through puberty is more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult. Weight loss is difficult because the human body tries to maintain the weight it believes it is "set" at; this is why slow weight loss works better than fast weight loss, the human body needs to be essentially tricked into a new "set" weight. Puberty may be a "locking in" point for weight.

Overweight children have earlier onset of puberty. The current accepted average age in the medical world for a girl to enter puberty is 9-14 years old. A study published in Pediatrics in 2010 found that by age 7, about 10% of white girls, 15% of Hispanic girls, and nearly 24% of black girls were already entering puberty; these statistics are nearly double what they were in 1997.

Early puberty not only statistically makes them more likely to be overweight adults; but it also brings on a whole new set of challenges. Girls who enter puberty early also have higher risk for breast cancer. And they may have social problems due to developing breasts earlier than their peers.

Mother's Weight During Pregnancy Influences Her Child's Weight in the Future

Results of several studies suggest what happens in the womb has strong correlation to life-long health and weight. A study at Harvard Medical School found that the more weight-gain a women had while pregnant, the higher chance her child would be overweight at age 3. Another study at Harvard Medical School looked into the teenage years and found the same result: more weight gain of the mother during pregnancy gave a significantly higher chance for their child to be an obese teen.

Now one may think that this is because of the lifestyle of the parents that the children are raised with. A study published in Pediatrics in 2009 stated that children born after their mother has lost weight were three times less likely to become severely obese than their older siblings. According to John Kral, a professor of surgery and medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, "The bodies of the children who were conceived after their mothers had weight-loss surgery process fats and carbohydrates in a healthier way than do the bodies of their brothers and sisters who were conceived at a time when their mothers were still overweight".

This is very interesting because it suggests that being overweight/obese isn't necessarily all lifestyle or genetics. Yes, those things do play a part; but this new information shows that there is potential for the cycle to be broken.

1 comment:

  1. You are so right about the HFCS! It is soooo bad for you. I'm working really hard to cut it out of our diet as much as I can. Unfortunately, unless you make everything from things you grow yourself, it's next to impossible to remove it completely from your diet.

    Even my husband is buying into their new marketing campaign about the body not knowing the difference between cane sugar and corn sugar... That might be true, IF HFCS was not so heavily processed!

    Stick with the real stuff, and you'll be healthier and happier and more satisfied!